FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

Z: ZOROASTRIAN

November 12, 2014

Tags: bonfire, jumping over fire, Persia, Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism, religion, Iran, Mazda, Persian tradition, winter solstice

One of Jandy's most vivid memories is of Iranians jumping over bonfires on the eve of the last Wednesday before the new year.

"Give me your beautiful red color. Take back my sickly pallor!" they shout to the flames. The short, dark days are filled with hope for spring's return and a brighter future.

This custom, celebrating the triumph of good over evil, had been part of Persian culture for 4,000 years, long before the rise of Islam. During the reign of Darius I, the prophet Zoroaster had a vision of an uncreated Spirit named Ashura (Light) Mazda (Wisdom), who alone should be worshiped.

"Red Wednesday" celebrations in Shekarabard combined old and new traditions. By the light of bonfires, kids ran through the streets dressed as ancestral spirits, banging pots and pans to ward off bad luck, and knocking on doors for treats. Special foods were prepared to make wishes come true. After serving noodle soup, the Grahams' neighbors had passed out a mix of pistachios, almonds, apricots, and figs.

Through stories of Esther and Daniel, Jandy knows how the fortunes of the Persians intertwined with those of the Jews and Babylonians. Her home-church group had visited the palace ruins at Susa ("Shushan" in the Bible) with its museum full of animal carvings and ceremonial relief sculptures. While history is not her forte, the sense of being steeped in a land of ancient legends was quite intoxicating.

Texas has its own folklore--of pioneer women in covered wagons, cattle drives, and indigenous tribes pre-dating Columbus. But Jandy's soul remains in Central Asia. Above all she misses Maryam, her closest friend. So begins RIDDLE OF THE SAMOVAR.